Citizendium, the non-free encyclopedia.

Update, Dec 2007: I was wrong. CZ has chosen CC-by-sa. w00t! *champagne*

Citizendium looks likely to adopt a Creative Commons Non-Commercial licence, with the Citizendium Foundation having the power to license anything in it commercially to keep the organisation running. Larry Sanger says he hasn’t declared a view, but I think the question wording and his clarifications point pretty obviously. See also the forum thread.

If Citizendium takes its content non-free, it immediately becomes only as interesting as Scholarpedia, for the same reason. (And not to mention contributors who feel they’ve been deceived wanting their stuff back.) Free content, with analogy to free software, does not have usage restrictions. Dr Sanger attempts a reductio ad Hitlerum on the term “free,” but I suspect that’s not going to convince many outside Citizendium.

There’s a complete failure (in the CZ forum or blog threads) to acknowledge “commercial use” as meaning anything other than large corporations in the first world. But a non-profit running a large sales operation falls under “non-commercial”; an individual selling copies and covering costs while not operating under a governmental or non-profit corporate umbrella, however, is “commercial”.

(The GFDL is hardly that wonderful, and I’ve posted to the FSFE list that the one thing those of us contributing to the largest GFDL project in existence want is that a future version be completely compatible with a future CC-by-sa. That’s it. That’s what we want.)

Usage restrictions are fundamentally problematic. One of the reasons for making Wikipedia free content without usage restrictions is so that distribution of the content can be encouraged. Erik Möller has noted the problems with NC licences: “marking up regions of content as non-commercial and consistently following these boundaries is almost impossible in a collaborative environment.” Lawrence Lessig agrees he has a point there (though, of course, continues to support -NC for appropriate uses himself). Further from Möller:

Worse still are the effects that -NC licenses can have on people in the developing world, where entrepreneurship represents an opportunity to overcome poverty and the digital divide. People with basic access to freely licensed materials can redistribute them at a small profit using more traditional means such as photocopying or CD burning. In the absence of large scale government programs to broaden Internet access or distribute free content, market forces can play a clearly beneficial role in spreading free knowledge and free culture. Given cultural, language and access barriers, the common argument of -NC proponents that permitting commercial use on request is sufficient to allow for desirable uses, is at odds with reality.

Dr Sanger says he considers the free market useful, but doesn’t speak of commercial use in terms other than large first-world corporations. If that’s what Citizendium want to make sure they get paid for, they need a licence that says that and doesn’t have the collateral damage outside the first world that this approach will. Even those Citizendium contributors apparently driven by bitterness toward Wikipedia would surely have some reluctance to concede most of the world’s population for short-term gain.

Update: Dr Sanger states he really truly hasn’t decided any which way, both here and on the forum.

Update 2: It’s in the Slashdot firehose, apparently adapted from this post. With a link here. INCOMING!!

10 thoughts on “Citizendium, the non-free encyclopedia.”

  1. David, we haven’t announced the license, and let’s just say that you could be completely wrong. I asked that question precisely in order to start a debate, and then, when people started giving simplistic, dogmatic answers, I played devil’s advocate, as many people know I love to do. Are we not allowed to have a debate, then? We should march in lockstep? The fact that we do not necessarily buy into every aspect of the dogma of the FOSS community–and it can be very dogmatic, you know–does not mean we do not respect that community or culture.

  2. Hmm. I was going by your words (which I have linked to) in the forum and blog threads. I do think the way you stated the question presupposes the answer, and your further posts in the forum don’t really convince me otherwise – you appear to misunderstand or quickly dismiss opposing posts or (as in the case of the attempted reductio ad hitlerum) give an answer not related to the actual point being made.

    If you want a debate without your expressed view (as founder and leader) and continued emphasis of this expressed view being taken as the way you intend to go, you should probably make a post where you detail the arguments in opposition to those you have seemed to push so far. A comment here probably isn’t sufficient.

    I fully agree that the free culture includes many dogmatic pains in the arse, and without Stallman’s virtue of at least frequently being right.

  3. “I do think the way you stated the question presupposes the answer, and your further posts in the forum don’t really convince me otherwise…”

    Well, you’re mistaken about my intention, I’m here to tell you, David. I’m a better source of information about what my intentions are than you are, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    I don’t really need your advice, David. I just wanted to correct your error.

  4. Just a thought I had as I read your post. I admit its not one that will help clarify the perennial discussion over this clause.

    On one hand, being somewhat familiar with business practices in one Third-world country (Ethiopia), I don’t think the restrictions a “Non-Commercial” clause place would deter any intelligent entrepreneur in that part of the world from using the material. Not only would this hypothetical person be familiar with the saying, “It is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission”, he faces far more difficult barriers from the environment of his own country & fellowmen.

    On the other hand, there is clear & widespread abuse of material both with and without a “Non-Commerical” clause in the First World in the form of school kids plagiarizing content for their school work. While I doubt anyone truly cares about people in the first group heavily borrowing (to use a euphemism) content from Wikipedia, Citizendium, & elsewhere to improve their lives, none of us condone or desire people in the second to likewise heavily borrow that content.

    I doubt there is anyway either the GFDL or CC licenses could be rewritten to discourage plagiarism, so I guess we have to endure schoolteachers & college faculty impressing on their students not to use these online resources.

    Geoff

  5. David –

    I don’t have a lot of time, with the American holiday here right now – but in short, please take a moment and read my CZ userpage. Note that all of my adult life my main passion has been education in the developing world–and that passion has actually taken me there for some years, and is likely to move me there again shortly. Note also that I am pro CC-by-nc-sa for CZ, along with the right of CZ to relicense that to commercial reusers with pocketbooks. So, what, am I nuts? No, not at all. It’s just that I want CZ to be able to have the freedom to really do things http://forum.citizendium.org/index.php/topic,1377.msg11823.html#msg11823 along the lines of “free as in education.”

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